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Gambas al Pil Pil Tapas Recipe

(Garlic Prawns with Chili)

Written By: Byron | April 5, 2024
a tapas serving of gambas al pil pil

Gambas al Pil Pil (garlic prawns with chili) is a traditional Spanish tapas recipe that is super easy to make and loaded with flavor. Large prawns are cooked in olive oil with plenty of garlic, paprika, and chili for some extra heat. The smell of this dish is irresistible and it is always best served with plenty of fresh bread. 

This dish is very similar to the ever-popular gambas al Ajillo (garlic shrimp) recipe, with the addition of some chili to heat things up. Originally hailing from the northern region of Spain in the Basque Country, nowadays, It’s a popular dish served all over Spain as a tapas.

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Serving:

Tapas for 4

Ready in:

13 minutes

Skill level:

Easy

Serve with:

Fresh Bread

Watch step-by-step recipe video

If you’re looking for this recipe’s video and many other great recipe ideas, why not check out our Spanish Radish YouTube Channel? We’ve got everything from quick and easy tapas recipes to delicious main meals, to incredible Spanish dessert options too.

Origins of Gambas al Pill Pil 

Gambas al pil pil, also known simply as “pil pil,” is a traditional Spanish dish that originates from the Basque Country, particularly from the coastal city of San Sebastián (Donostia). The Basque Country is located in northern Spain and is renowned for its rich culinary traditions. Gambas al pil pil is one of the dishes that exemplifies this. 

The dish typically consists of prawns (gambas) cooked in clay pots with olive oil, garlic, and chili peppers. Simple but very effective, the dishes are enhanced by the flavorful sauce that is emulsified with the natural juices from the prawns. It’s a delicious and time-honored recipe that highlights the fresh seafood and quality ingredients characteristic of Basque cuisine.

Gambas al Pil Pil is not to be confused with the classic Bacalao al pil-pil dish, also of Basque cuisine. The dish is typically made as a dish featuring Bacalao (Salted cod fish). While both use olive oil, garlic, and chili, they have little to do with each other beyond the similarity in ingredients.

How to Make Gambas al Pil Pil 

Ingredients

For Serving

  • Fresh bread
  • Fresh chopped parsley (optional)

Equipment needed

A plate of large prawns sits beside some spices, olive oil, garlic, and chili.

Method

  • Start by removing the head and shells and deveining the prawns. 
  • Heat the oil in a small pan or skillet. 
  • While waiting, slice the garlic cloves into fine rounds. 
  • Once the oil is hot reduce the heat to medium and add the dried chilis, garlic, and season with some salt. 
  • With the oil bubbling, add the prawns and cook until they turn pink and become opaque. 
  • Sprinkle with smoked paprika, and crushed chili (if using), season to taste with some salt, and serve. 

Cooking Tips

  • Aim for prawns with tails around 3 inches in length. Once cooked they are a good bite size and not too difficult to pick up. 
  • Fresh or frozen prawns both work fine for this recipe. If using frozen prawns, thaw the prawns first. 
  • Don’t add the paprika when the oil is too hot as it will burn the paprika. If the oil is smoking, it is too hot.

Ingredients and substitutions

Prawns – Raw uncooked prawns with tails around 2-3 inches work great for this recipe. Frozen prawns also work well, just make sure you thaw them first before cooking. Shrimp can also be used, however, shrimp tend to be smaller than prawns. 

Garlic – Garlic is a major ingredient for this recipe and 5 cloves may seem excessive to some. Don’t worry the garlic is sliced super fine and will fry with the oil, quickly turning the garlic transparent and infusing the oil and shrimp with garlicy goodness! 

Paprika – It is typical to use sweet paprika for seafood recipes in Spain, however, we decided to give our Gambas a little heat and used spicy smoked paprika. The result is a subtle layering of heat thanks to the spicy paprika, along with the heat from the chili. 

Chili – The Guindilla pepper is a popular choice in Basque cuisine. With a

Scoville Heat Units rating of 1,000 – 2,000 SHU, the Guindilla pepper is a mild pepper that doesn’t bring too much heat. Of course, this recipe can be made very spicy depending on the type of chili used. 

Olive oil  – We use Extra Virgin Olive Oil for this recipe. Sure EVOO is expensive, but there is plenty of flavor and this is one such dish that you’ll want plenty of fresh bread handy for a good mop of the delicious paprika and chili-infused oil.

a tapas serving of gambas al pil pil

Storage and Reheating

Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days. The oil will form a crust, but this will reduce back down as soon as it is heated. 

in the unlikely event of any leftovers, freezing is not recommended. 

FAQS When Making Gambas al Pil Pil 

How many prawns per person should I use? 

This can depend on whether the dish is being served as a tapa or as a main course. Generally, you might use around 4-6 shrimp per person for a main course, or 2-3 shrimp as a tapas

What type of prawns should I use? 

Fresh prawns are ideal, but if fresh isn’t available, you can use high-quality frozen prawns.

Should I peel the prawns before or after cooking? Traditionally, the prawns are cooked with their shells on, as this adds flavor. However, you can peel them before cooking if preferred.

How much garlic and chili should I use? 

The amount of garlic and chili can vary based on personal preference and the desired level of spiciness. A common ratio is around 4 cloves of garlic and 2 chili peppers per 150g (5 oz.) of prawns.

What type of chili should I use? 

Spanish Guindilla peppers are traditionally used for gambas al pil pil, but you can also use other types of mild red chili peppers like Fresno or even dried red chili flakes. If you want something extra spicy, consider using birdseye chili (rated at between 50,000 and 100,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). 

How do I know when the prawns are cooked? 

Prawns cook very quickly, and they turn pink and opaque when done. Be careful not to overcook them, as they can become tough.

Can I add any additional seasonings? 

While the traditional recipe calls for just olive oil, garlic, and chili, some variations include adding parsley or a splash of white wine for extra flavor. 

What type of olive oil should I use? 

Extra virgin olive oil is typically used for its rich flavor, but you can use any good-quality olive oil.

How should I serve gambas al pil pil? 

This dish is often served sizzling hot straight from the pan, accompanied by crusty bread or fresh baguette for dipping into the flavorful oil. It is common for this dish to be prepared and served in an earthenware dish like the one we used in this video. If you don’t have an earthenware dish, a Cast Iron Skillet or frying pan are also good options. 

Is Gambas al Pil Pil easy to make?

Yes, it is very easy. This recipe requires very little cooking (just heating some oil) and you can even use peeled (prepared) prawns reducing the prep work to virtually nothing.

Nutrition Facts

Serving size: 70g

Servings: 4

Amount per serving

 

Calories

349

% Daily Value*

Total Fat 35.5g

46%

Saturated Fat 5.1g

26%

Cholesterol 83mg

28%

Sodium 135mg

6%

Total Carbohydrate 1.6g

1%

Dietary Fiber 0.2g

1%

Total Sugars 0.2g

 

Protein 9.2g

 

Vitamin D 0mcg

0%

Calcium 24mg

2%

Iron 1mg

8%

Potassium 106mg

2%

*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calorie a day is used for general nutrition advice.

a tapas serving of gambas al pil pil
a tapas serving of gambas al pil pil

Gambas al Pil Pil Tapas Recipe (Garlic Prawns with Chili)

Byron
Gambas al Pil Pil (garlic prawns with chili) is a traditional Spanish tapas recipe made with Large prawns cooked in olive oil with plenty of garlic, paprika, and chili for some extra heat.
No ratings yet
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 8 minutes
Total Time 13 minutes
Course Appetizer, Side Dish, tapas
Cuisine Authentic Spanish recipe, basque, Mediterranean, Spain
Servings 4 tapas
Calories 349 kcal

Equipment

  • 10.25 Inch Cast Iron Skillet or medium-sized earthenware dish
  • Bowl or dish (for serving)

Ingredients

  • 20 large raw prawns 5 oz. / 150 grams in total
  • Half a cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 5 Garlic cloves
  • 3 dried chili we used Guindilla Peppers from the Basque Country
  • ½ teaspoon La Vera smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon crushed chili optional for serving with a little extra heat
  • Salt to taste

Instructions
 

  • Start by removing the head and shells and deveining the prawns.
    20 large raw prawns
  • Heat the oil in a small pan or skillet.
    Half a cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • While waiting, slice the garlic cloves into fine rounds.
    5 Garlic cloves
  • Once the oil is hot reduce the heat to medium and add the dried chilis, garlic, and season with some salt.
    3 dried chili
  • With the oil bubbling, add the prawns and cook until they turn pink and become opaque.
  • Sprinkle with smoked paprika, and crushed chili (if using), season to taste with some salt, and serve.
    ½ teaspoon La Vera smoked paprika, ½ teaspoon crushed chili, Salt to taste

Video

Notes

Cooking Tips

  • Aim for prawns with tails around 3 inches in length. Once cooked they are a good bite size and not too difficult to pick up. 
  • Fresh or frozen prawns both work fine for this recipe. If using frozen prawns, thaw the prawns first. 
  • Don’t add the paprika when the oil is too hot as it will burn the paprika. If the oil is smoking, it is too hot.

Nutrition

Serving: 70gCalories: 349kcalCarbohydrates: 1.6gProtein: 9.2gFat: 35.5gSaturated Fat: 5.1gCholesterol: 83mgSodium: 135mgPotassium: 106mgFiber: 0.2gSugar: 0.2gCalcium: 24mgIron: 1mg
Keyword 15-minute-meal, basque, chili, Easy tapas, gambas al ajillo, gambas al pil pil, garlic prawns, garlic shrimp, pil pil, prawns, Spanish tapas, tapas

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2 Comments

  1. Peter

    Be careful with the Guindillas (Chili peppers). The ones described here say they are from the Basque country, and are MILD.

    But in the south of Spain, e.g., in the Costa del Sol, the Chili peppers sold as ‘Guindillas’ (sometimes labelled ‘Cayena’ or ‘Piripiri’) are ferociously hot. Believe me! I can happily eat Madras curry, and even Vindaloo, but I wouldn’t put more than 3 guindillas, at most, in a dish of Gambas Pilpil.

    So check out what the guindillas are like in your region.

    Reply
    • Byron

      A good tip indeed. The Guindilla pepper we are using for this recipe is the Basque variety. They are not overly intense in heat and are the most common type of Guindilla found in Spain. The cayenne variety are hotter, but still only around 1,000 to 2,000 Scoville Heat Units (the average jalapeno has around 5,000 Scoville Heat Units). Can’t say we have experienced piripiri peppers here in Spain, we have to keep an eye out for those. All the best!

      Reply

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